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Detroit Lions film breakdown: Rookies contribute in big way in blowout vs. Bears

Examining how the Detroit Lions 2022 rookie class performed in Week 17 of the regular season.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

In a league that is built on parity, the Detroit Lions’ 41-10 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 17 of the season was about as thorough of a beating as you will see. Apart from Chicago’s first few offensive series, they could not get anything going on offense—particularly in the passing game, where quarterback Justin Fields finished with just 30 net passing yards.

Rookie defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, and James Houston all made their mark, and the Lions’ offense, led by quarterback Jared Goff, turned in one of their more dominant performances of the year.

As part of our ongoing series, let’s take a closer look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in their Week 17 win over the Bears.

Aidan Hutchinson, DL

37 snaps (71% of total defensive snaps) — 2 special teams snaps (7%)
PFF defensive grade: 90.7

Over the course of the season, general manager Brad Holmes has received plenty of love for his ability to identify talent in the NFL draft. His first class, led by right tackle Penei Sewell and receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, took major steps in the right direction in year two, and his 2022 draft class is looking just as good. And it all begins with the second overall pick in the draft, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

I thought all of the talk about Hutchinson’s instincts during the pre-draft process was a bit overblown, but man was I wrong. He seems to always find the football and is rarely fooled by something more than once. After a rough showing in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, Hutchinson and the other members of the Lions’ front seven rebounded in a big way against Chicago.

This time around, defensive tackle Alim McNeill does a much better job of not being moved down the line of scrimmage, resulting in less of a burden on Hutchinson as the contain-player. He still takes a few steps down the line of scrimmage in order to squeeze the gap, but because of his athleticism, is still able to change direction and run Fields down for a short gain.

On this rep, Hutchinson is lined up pre-snap to the outside shoulder of Bears’ tight end Cole Kmet. Because Kmet gets into a route and this is a play-action concept that gets Fields rolling out to his right, Hutchinson is left unblocked off the edge. Instead of getting too excited and overrunning Fields, he stayed outside of the quarterback, causing him to step up and right into the arms of defensive linemen John Cominsky.

In both the box score and on film, I feel like this was one of Hutchinson’s better days as a Lion. He finished with four total tackles, half of a sack, a fumble recovery, and a gift of an interception right before the end of the first half.

Jameson Williams, WR

18 (25%)
PFF offensive grade: 64.4

Slowly but surely, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is working Williams into the fold. On one hand, I would love to see him unleashed on opposing defenses, but on the other—it seems like it is taking some time for Goff to develop proper timing with the speedster.

On the third offensive series for the Lions, they tried getting Williams going with a screen pass, but the Bears were on it early, forcing Goff to throw it into the turf. Similarly, on the fourth series, Goff looked for Williams between the hashes, but the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, resulting in the ball skipping at Williams’ feet.

Finally, the Lions went to their well of trick plays in order to get the ball into his hands, and it paid off in a big way. You can see that Williams simply has a gear that most humans don’t possess. The play was executed very well, giving him an alley to show off his world-class speed. Imagine being the defender at the end of this snap that has Sewell bearing down on him, while also trying to corral one of the fastest players in the league.

It was good to see Williams get more snaps than he previously had since returning from the injured reserve. If I had to guess, I would assume that the Lions have a few ideas on how to get Williams involved during their Week 18 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

Josh Paschal, DL

25 (48%)
PFF defensive grade: 72.4

With the party that Hutchinson and Houston seemed to be having in the Bears’ backfield, Paschal had to get in on the action. In his most productive day as a pro, Paschal racked up four total tackles, two sacks, and two quarterback hits. And with the emergence of Houston on the edge, I imagine we will see more of Paschal at the three- and five-technique.

Paschal displays impressive power on this rep, immediately opening left tackle Braxton Jones’ outside shoulder so that his chest is facing the sideline—which almost always spells bad news for an offensive tackle.

On his second sack of the day, Paschal doesn’t get the best jump on the snap, but because of his play strength, it doesn’t really matter. Fields attempts to escape to his right, but before he can, Paschal disposes of right tackle Riley Reiff and brings down Fields for yet another sack.

Kerby Joseph, S

48 (92%) — 10 (33%)
PFF defensive grade: 47.9

One of my favorite things to watch for when conducting these film reviews is to watch all of the ground Joseph covers on the back end. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn asks a lot of the rookie out of the University of Illinois, and while his play isn’t without hiccups, he has mostly risen to the challenge in a year where he was supposed to be learning behind veteran safety Tracy Walker.

This play won’t show up in the box score, and the throw from Fields wasn’t very accurate, but the fact that Joseph diagnosed this and has the requisite closing speed—is a great sign moving forward.

Another rep where Joseph shows off his athletic traits. Chicago receiver Equanimeous St. Brown lines up pre-snap on the inside of a bunch formation. Joseph, who is lined up near the hash, sees St. Brown run a shallow out that ends up near the boundary. As the pass arrives, so does Joseph, where he is able to get a hand on the ball and rip it free before St. Brown has a chance to complete the catch.

James Mitchell, TE

20 (28%) — 10 (33%)
PFF offensive grade: 72.1

Like with Paschal, the Lions don’t need to rush the development of Mitchell, since tight ends Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra are both playing solid football. He is seemingly becoming a better blocker by the week and should continue to add to the Lions’ already potent passing attack.

Nothing too complicated here, just a nicely run route by Mitchell and an accurate throw from Goff. Because he is improving as a blocker, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mitchell get some of the plays that have recently been drawing up for Brock Wright—where he blocks for a moment, before releasing into a route.

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB

26 (50%) — 3 (10%)
PFF defensive grade: 65.9

It wasn’t the busiest day for Rodriguez in terms of statistical output, as he finished with four tackles against Chicago. Still, he was his usual steady self against the run and has been one of the team’s best tacklers all season.

James Houston, LB

33 (63%) — 3 (10%)
PFF defensive grade: 85.1

In several weeks, Houston has gone from a situational pass rusher to a player that this coaching staff trusts with over 60% of the snap share. He was in on early downs against the run, he dropped into coverage a handful of times, and as usual, got after the opposing quarterback.

On his first sack, there are a few things happening that lead to Fields landing on the ground, and three of them are from rookies. Firstly, check out Houston’s pad level as he bends the corner. He is below Braxton Jones’ hip and essentially launches the left tackle into Fields. On the other side of the ball, Hutchinson gets a clean win against Reiff, which forces Fields to step up in the pocket. Lastly, when Fields steps up, there is nowhere to go, and that is because Paschal has walked guard Michael Schofield back into the pocket, making life even more difficult for Fields.

His second sack comes toward the end of the first half, with the Bears looking to cut their deficit before going into the locker room. Double team? Not an issue for Da Problem. He continues to have active hands and spins up field once he notices Fields climbing the pocket. Then Houston does exactly as defensive linemen are coached to do, chop that ball out.

As mentioned before, we saw Houston drop into coverage on a handful of occasions against the Bears, and he looked comfortable enough in space. On this snap, Fields once again rolls out of the pocket, but before he can find an open receiver, Houston is on him in a flash for his third sack of the day.

Altogether, the Lions’ rookie defensive linemen tallied five-and-a-half sacks against the Bears. Not a bad day's work.

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